Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pets for Singles, Part II

So maybe you're not into the "I'm gonna get a dog or cat cuz everyone else is doing it" mentality. Or maybe you've just never looked into nontraditional pets.

Well, now's your chance. Singletude presents a list of "alternapets" for the discriminating single:

1. Lagomorphs (Rabbits) and Rodents (Guinea Pigs, Gerbils, & Hamsters)

If an animal is not a pet to you if you can't, well, pet it, but you don't have time to be as involved with it as a dog or cat, consider a rabbit, guinea pig, gerbil, or hamster. Rabbits and guinea pigs, in particular, are a delight to the fingertips, although only guinea pigs will let you hold them for any length of time.

All of the above animals are conveniently housed in indoor cages and are well suited to apartments and other small spaces, although rabbits can be kept in a hutch outside or even housetrained to run free and use a litter box. (If you choose this last option for a rabbit, though, keep in mind that litter-trained rabbits aren’t always cats and may sometimes leave droppings outside the box for your cleaning pleasure.)

Although rabbits and guinea pigs in particular may enjoy interacting with you, they are undemanding pets. They won’t wake you at six in the morning whining to be fed or walked, and in the case of gerbils and hamsters, they can entertain themselves (and you) for hours if you keep their cages stocked with toys. However, you will need to play with them yourself if you want them to be well socialized, and this means supervising them while they’re out of the cage. This can be a joy, though, especially with rabbits, who rival cats in intelligence and will engage you in games of tag and fetch.

Speaking of “cage,” you will also need to clean it regularly, and that can be a daunting task since rodents and lagomorphs are messy animals. Anyone who adopts one should be prepared for this responsibility.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, and hamsters have special dietary needs, which can easily be met at your local pet store. But keep in mind, too, that their teeth are constantly growing and, therefore, they will need the rodent equivalent of the everlasting gobstopper to keep them happy. If you don’t continuously supply them with things to chew, they will turn their sizable teeth on whatever is available, and this may include expensive parts of their housing--or yours if you’re not careful.

These animals are also prone to a wide variety of diseases and have fragile health, so monitor them closely. However, they have short life spans naturally–under 10 years–so you won’t be making a lifetime commitment.

In the end, if you choose one of the above pets, you’ll get a luxuriantly touchable, entertaining friend who is content with and without you, freeing you to come and go as you please. And you may have to get out the pooper scooper more often than you’d like, but at least you don’t have to do it outside, rain or shine, in heat waves and in blizzards three times a day.

2. Reptiles (Turtles, Lizards, & Snakes)

Turtles, lizards, and snakes aren’t hands-on pets like their furrier counterparts, so they appeal to pet owners who like to observe more than interact.

Again, if you’re a busy single, you’ll seldom have to interrupt your schedule for reptiles. As long as they have adequate food and water in an appropriate environment, they’ll be content to bask in the rays of the heat lamp all day. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun handling them–in fact, if you want them to remain friendly and comfortable with humans, it’s a must–but they won’t pace for you by the door if you’re out late, and they definitely won’t wake up the neighbors with sounds of excitement when you return.

Many reptiles are stunning to look at due to their bold, brilliant coloration, and, in the case of snakes and some lizards, which eat live prey, their feeding behavior can be fascinating, if not for the faint of heart. And, let’s admit it, there’s a certain coolness factor to owning a reptile.

Don’t be fooled, though. Their needs for interaction may be low, but they are high-maintenance pets. The specialized equipment required for their care, including heat and light sources and, in some cases, filters, is expensive and needs daily fine-tuning to maintain the right temperature, humidity, and brightness for the animal’s health. Reptiles are extremely sensitive to disturbances in environmental conditions and can easily sicken if you don’t keep on top of this. Like rodents, they’re also very messy, and they’ll depend on you to clean those top-of-the-line enclosures.

If you have a reptile, make good friends with your veterinarian. Reptiles, particularly snakes and lizards, develop health conditions and behavioral problems at the drop of a hat, so you and the vet may soon be on a first-name basis.

Another issue that arises with reptiles is that they’re natural escape artists. You’ll have to be very careful when securing their aquariums as well as when letting them out to play. They’re attracted to tight, dark spaces from which you might have great difficulty extracting them. Some have been known to scuttle off and disappear, never to be found again...unless they're found under the sofa of a less than thrilled neighbor.

If your heart is set on a reptile, though, don’t get discouraged. Start with a small, preferably vegetarian species, however, one that will take up less room, be easier to care for, and have a relatively short life span in case you realize you’ve made a mistake.

3. Birds (Parrots and Related Species)

If you’re looking for someone else to fill the silence, a bird’s got you covered. Parrots will gladly oblige by talking, squawking, whistling, chirping, and screaming.

Yes, screaming. Parrots are capable of emitting more background noise than you ever wanted, so think very carefully before buying one. With patience and repetition, you can teach them to talk, and when you do, the results are adorable, but these highly social animals never want to end the conversation. If you’re out of sight for even a minute, that’s too long in the parrot’s eyes, and she will probably fuss, which can sound like a flock of crows has just invaded your home. Depending on the temperament of your bird, this can go on from the crack of dawn till bedtime, so assess realistically whether you can live with that. (And if you can, can your neighbors?)

If you work at home or can take your bird with you every day, a parrot might be a wonderful pet for you. If you can’t, your feathered friend is likely to become withdrawn, depressed, and even aggressive. Armed with that beak, an aggressive parrot is not someone you want to confront.

Those jokes about small-bladdered birds are also true. They’re cuddly and outgoing and will literally walk all over you if you let them, but they have a high metabolism and excrete waste every 15-30 minutes. That can really limit a play session. Before you get a bird, consider whether you’re willing to clean up the mess he makes, both in and out of his cage. Remember, if you're single, you're the only one to do it.

Like rodents, parrots are also chewers. Aside from a well-balanced diet that you will be expected to provide, birds need lots of toys to chew on. They also need toys for mental stimulation since they’re among the most intelligent animals kept in captivity.

Unfortunately, the cost of bird plus cage plus food plus toys can add up quickly. It’s not unusual for parrot owners to spend several thousand dollars just to establish their pets. That's a few thousand that many singles don't have.

Finally, if you want a parrot, remember to do your homework on the longevity of the species. Some smaller parrots live 10-15 years, but many have life spans that rival ours and could easily outlive you. Because parrots bond so intensely to their owners, rehoming a parrot is a traumatic experience, sometimes one from which it never recovers, so please don’t adopt a parrot unless you’re absolutely, completely sure that you can dedicate yourself to it for the rest of its life and, perhaps, the rest of yours. When making this judgment, please take into account how your life as a single might unforseeably change due to relocation, different job requirements, or the addition of other people to your family, any of which might make it difficult to take care of a bird.

If I sound negative towards would-be parrot owners, it’s only because parrots are among the most frequently returned pets, yet they’re the ones who can least afford it emotionally. Each year, thousands of abused and neglected parrots are rescued from owners who promised to care for them but lacked the resources to follow through, especially in the face of their notoriously willful behavior.

If you are that special single who wants a bird to be your "other half," a close, childlike companion you can baby and share your life with, then a parrot may be for you. When they’re well cared for, they’re breathtakingly beautiful, wickedly intelligent, insanely fun clowns. But if you want a good relationship with a parrot, you’ll have to earn it.

4. Fish

Here, at last, is the perfect “alternapet” for singles. They can accommodate any size dwelling (as long as you don’t get a dozen sand sharks, of course), they’re not noisemakers, they’re low-maintenance (daily feedings and a good filter should do the trick), and forget low social needs–they have no social needs. About the only work you need to do is choose a handful of compatible fish, buy a tank, and monitor the water quality from time to time.

On the flip side, for many people, especially those who live alone, an inseparable part of pet ownership is interaction, which is the very thing fish can’t provide.

They’re among the most stunning pets to look at, though, and if you need to calm down after a trying day, there’s no better way than to watch a tapestry of fins swaying hypnotically back and forth, back and forth, among the coral and algae in a miniature sea.

If you're single, have you found it helpful to have a pet? What kinds of "animal companions" have you had? Which ones would you recommend to other singles?

Fun Link of the Day


Anonymous said...

You forget to include Sugar Gliders.


Wizardry said...

Well, its like you last post said; if anything, I'm a cat person, but even that seems to be beyond me at the moment. I mean, I like cats when I'm at a friends house. In fact, sometimes I'm overtly distracted by the little bundle of love and I end up chasing it all around their house just to pick it up and shower it with baby words as I smother it in my arms- lovingly of course. But even so, I can't seem to get a pet myself. I'm just not into all the upkeep they have, even though its minor compared to the benefit of having my own cat to chase around all teh time. That in addition to one other problem; as a kid, my family had a dog, and he loved everyone, but the dog never really liked me- perhaps it could sense my anti-social behavior, and anyhow, I've been worried about getting a pet ever since then for the fear that it wouldn't "like" me, thus forcing me to get rid of it, which would still be hard even it didn't like me, or I would have to live with the little brute.

All in all, pets just arn't my thing.

Elsie, its great to see you getting more traffic around here! Its good to see the ideas that spread when the comments pile up.

By the winter solstice, its Yule!

bobbyboy said...

"Which ones would you recommend to other singles?"

I'm going to recommend a cat or dog Elsie. They are a little more furry and cuddly than fish and don't seem to want to run away from you as much as a rabbit.

But, then again, I have plants as pets so maybe my recommendation wouldn't have the strength it should.

Clever Elsie said...

Blister--Okay, tell us about Sugar Gliders and how to keep one happy as a pet. I assume owning your own eucalyptus forest would be a good start? :P

Victoria--Pets really are quite a bit of work. A lot of people don't think that through before they run out to the pet store, and then it's the animal who suffers when it has to be returned or rehomed.

I wonder if you spent a lot of time with your family dog? Animals can be very sensitive to whether we like them or not, and ultimately, their loyalty lies with the ones who feed them and, secondarily, the ones who give them lots of positive attention. Maybe you just had a case of "bad chemistry" with this dog. Either way, I'd hate to see that one bad experience keep you from enjoying a pet in the future, so I hope you'll give it a try one day when you're ready.

And, yes, it's great to see the new faces here! I love "comment conversations."

Bobby--Plants make excellent pets. Quiet, docile, undemanding, inexpensive to own, and easy on the eyes. Maybe not so great for snuggling, but you can't have it all. :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, Elsie, I'm glad you asked. You see, as it turns out, my dear brother, Darling Herzog, used to own a couple Sugar Gliders, while living on the mean streets of Philadelphia. From what I hear, these critters can be quite nasty, flying at you from unseen heights, latching onto your ears, nose, and sometimes chin, mainly for those with a little excess weight. When adopting a Sugar Glider, which I believe is illegal in most states, it is recommended that you get two, thus the reason for my brother's choice in number; this is due to the fact that Sugar Gliders enjoy their companionship, and tend to get quite lonely if forced to live out their lives as your single pet. They also tend to be quite nocturnal, throwing wild parties, and talking on the phone to other Sugar Gliders in the Orient, all hours of the night, keeping you awake, or even worse, distracting you from your private, love-making sessions. What's more, they tend to be quite messy as well, just topping themselves off as a well-rounded, although adorable nuisance. Suffice to say, my brother did get rid of his two Sugar Gliders, quite adamant that getting them in the first place was a hell of a mistake. Therefore, in summation, I would say to consider all of this before taking the leap, because they can be a bit of a handful.

Blister H.